Jauron edges Belichick for coaching honor

Saturday, January 19th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Dick Jauron showed the world how to handle being on the hot seat: win 13 games, a division title and The Associated Press NFL Coach of the Year award.

Jauron, who needed a winning season to impress new general manager Jerry Angelo and keep his job, led the Chicago Bears to the NFC Central crown and a first-round playoff bye. The Bears, 5-11 in 2000, had the stingiest defense in the league, allowing 203 points.

Their turnaround earned Jauron 24 votes from a nationwide panel of 50 media members who regularly cover the NFL. He edged New England's Bill Belichick, who had 19 1/2 votes in balloting released Saturday.

When Angelo was hired, there was strong conjecture that Jauron had little job security. But then the Bears started winning, compiling the league's second-best record.

``Our football team won 13 games,'' said Jauron, who carried a 11-21 record into the season. ``Any time a team has success, whether you're a player on the team, an assistant coach, the head coach, you get recognition. That's just how it works in our business.

``Sometimes it may not even be your best year, but the fact that as a team we put together 13 wins, these are the things that come out of it. Everybody gets recognized.''

Jauron's players were thrilled for their coach, who joins ``Papa Bear'' George Halas (1963, 1965) and Mike Ditka (1985, 1988) as Chicago coaches who won the AP award.

``I'm happy for Coach Jauron,'' said Mike Brown, Chicago's big-play safety and one of the key reasons the Bears made the playoffs for the first time since 1994 _ and won their division for the first time since 1990.

``People have been really hard on him. He's the main reason we're here. He told us at the beginning of training camp that we weren't going to lose anymore. And we believed in him.''

Added center Olin Kreutz, a Pro Bowl starter: ``Coach Jauron hasn't changed. Even when we were losing, he didn't change. This year, he came in and his job was on the line and he didn't change. We took that key from him. And we play for him.

``He's a great coach. He instills confidence in you. He's got a quiet confidence about him and that's what we take from him.''

Jauron will take away a lucrative new contract from this season. He's not quite an icon the way Halas and Ditka were, but he now is the among the town's most popular sportsmen. Winning does that, of course.

But he insists he coaches the same way, regardless of how safe his job is.

``I'd be lying if I said I never wondered about it. But I never worried about it,'' Jauron said. ``There are some things that you should worry about, that are worth worrying about, but I would say a job is not one of them. Because all you can do in that regard is the best you can do. All you can do is keep working at it.''

Belichick had to work extra hard to turn around the Patriots after they lost starting quarterback Drew Bledsoe to injury and top receiver Terry Glenn to suspension. He nurtured Tom Brady into a Pro Bowl quarterback, revived the career of several players _ particularly running back Antowain Smith _ and led New England (11-5) to the AFC East championship.

Bill Cowher, who has the most seniority with one team of any current coach, was third with four votes. Cowher led the Pittsburgh Steelers to the AFC Central title and best record in the conference.

San Francisco's Steve Mariucci received two votes, and Cleveland's Butch Davis got one-half vote.

Last year's winner was Jim Haslett of New Orleans.